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Ditch Your To-Do Listing and Use These Docs To Make Extra Impression

This text is  written by Brie Wolfson, who has labored for tech corporations of all styles and sizes, most lately Figma (Figma for Training) and Stripe (BizOps, Stripe Press). Now, she’s engaged on The Kool-Help Manufacturing unit (half analysis undertaking, half consultancy on the subject of firm tradition) and writing Founder Fodder, a publication concerning the quirks and quandaries dealing with startup founders.

Doing a terrific job in startup land requires taking possession over your work irrespective of what number of hats you’re carrying, plates you’re spinning, or balls you’re juggling…and it doesn’t matter what nook or degree of the group you’re doing it from. Which means choosing the right stuff to deal with, after which working your tail off to get it accomplished. 

Everyone knows that’s simpler mentioned than accomplished. These tantalizing unread counts on our Slack apps and inboxes are superb at grabbing our consideration and pulling us into the reactive swirl the place it’s all too simple to confuse movement for progress. And once we’re caught up within the day by day realities of conferences, messages, emails, docs, asks from colleagues, reviews, priorities, new priorities, tickets, decks, memos, and our private lives (sure, that too), together with the emotional swings that include using the startup rollercoaster (sure, undoubtedly that too!), it may be simple to succumb to the chaos and lose forest for the bushes. 

On the finish of the day, although, the one factor that really issues is the influence our work has on our firm, our clients, our colleagues, and our skilled improvement. And the one option to keep on prime of that is to carry ourselves accountable to our higher-order objectives with as a lot enthusiasm as now we have for the dopamine rush of reaching inbox zero. 

I can say from expertise working at some incredible organizations like Stripe and Figma, and with many others by my work on The Kool-Help Manufacturing unit, that the most effective leaders and operators I do know are pretty much as good upholding the 30,000-foot perspective as they’re getting the 3-inch-level work accomplished. The tug-of-war between the 2 is actual, however it’s manageable — with the correct processes in place to assist keep focus.

So, listed below are the docs I’ve honed in on through the years that assist me try this. Having this assortment of non-public templates in place helps me keep extra centered, balanced, self-aware, context-aware, and in-control of my workflow every day. They’ve additionally helped me make actual, sustained, progress in the direction of my broader objectives on that longer-term horizon. And I’m not solely speaking about internalizing and supporting my firm’s objectives. I’m speaking about understanding and performing alone profession objectives, too.

I’ve damaged them down into classes to offer you a greater sense of which one to make use of when, together with some voiceover on how all of them match collectively. All through, I’ve included particular examples from my very own profession in addition to template docs so that you can copy and put your personal spin on. As you’ll see, they’re designed primarily for private use, however I share bits and items with others if and when it is sensible. 

I hope you attempt them and I hope they’re helpful. Most of all, I hope they aid you make extra environment friendly progress in the direction of your objectives and make the expertise of getting there extra satisfying. 

Black and white photo of Brie Wolfson in front of stairs
Brie Wolfson, previously of Stripe & Figma, at the moment working with founders by The Kool-Help Manufacturing unit

1. Ongoing Stack Rank (OSR)

An OSR is successfully an inventory of issues I’m engaged on or may very well be engaged on over a given time interval. An OSR is nice for representing a world view of non-public priorities and the continuing standing of every, and it’s probably the most tactically helpful day-to-day. 

There are three crucial options of an excellent OSR:

1. Present outputs solely. On this context, outputs are outlined as shippable items work. Phrasing them as such may also assist remind you you could solely test it off as soon as it’s accomplished. For instance, “hosted dinner for startups” can present up in your checklist, whereas “booked restaurant for startup dinner” shouldn’t. Inputs like this, after all, contribute and ladder as much as your outputs, however you need to orient every little thing in your OSR in the direction of outputs as a result of that’s the stuff that’s finally going to drive your outcomes. In case your work is just one piece of a cross-functional puzzle, it’s best to nonetheless add your piece (particularly in case your piece would block the puzzle’s completion)! 

2. Embrace workstream standing: I’ll use a full spectrum of choices from scoping, to in-progress, to able to go, to shipped, to deprioritized for now (with dates). Exhibiting what’s in-scope and above the precedence line is usually as useful as displaying what’s out-of-scope or beneath the precedence line. It’ll additionally aid you keep on prime of the various, many workstreams you’re contributing to. Over time, it will flip into an inventory of belongings you’ve shipped. 

3. Order by precedence: This manner, you should utilize the OSR as your guiding mild for what try to be engaged on at any given second in time. It additionally makes it very easy to choose your subsequent workstream. 

What you’ll produce will, in some ways, be an oversimplification of how work really will get accomplished — all of us work on many, many issues without delay, every with their very own set of dependencies and quirks. Issues would possibly transfer up and down on this checklist or get added to or faraway from it. That’s okay! Report all of it. This simplified checklist will present readability when issues get particularly messy and preserve these higher-order objectives top-of thoughts. 

I additionally observe a lot of these messy particulars within the OSR. For instance, I’d embody dates, workstream dimension (I like t-shirt sizing, XS-XL), what firm precedence one thing ladders as much as, or what broader workstream my work contributes to (and who personal it), influence and success measurement standards for every enter (qualitative or quantitative), the viewers or key stakeholders for my work (inner or exterior). 

Right here’s a template for what yours may appear like (and a screenshot for a fast look):

Screenshot of Excel spreadsheet template

Over time, my OSR has helped me reply questions that beforehand confounded me like: 

How a lot work do I’ve in flight proper now? Is it an excessive amount of or too little? 

Am I getting stuff to completion or simply inching an limitless variety of issues ahead?

Am I proudly owning quite a lot of work or contributing to the work others personal?

Ought to I say sure or no to this factor somebody is requesting of me? If I’m saying no, how can I present others why?

What flavors of labor am I over or under-rotated on proper now?

How proactive vs. reactive is my work?

Who am I blocking proper now? Who’s blocking me?

Who am I working with so much recently?Is the work coming from me or them? Are there any patterns there? 

What firm precedence does this ladder as much as? Uh oh, this doesn’t apparently ladder as much as any firm precedence — ought to I even be engaged on it?

What ought to I work on subsequent? 

If issues are feeling  particularly chaotic or I haven’t marked something accomplished shortly, I’ll additionally begin a brand new column to trace how a lot time one thing is taking each week and/or what’s stopping me from transport or slowing issues down in order that I can paint a extra data-driven image of what’s occurring. 

It’s additionally been a terrific instrument to make use of with my managers or stakeholders as a option to not solely present visibility into what I’m engaged on, but in addition to make sure we’re aligned on priorities. I keep in mind counting on my OSR throughout one notably overwhelming interval of labor. Every Monday morning, my supervisor and I might open my OSR, have a look at what was in flight and what different groups have been asking from me (together with new requests coming in) after which order and re-order my OSR collectively. This manner, I had a transparent (and manager-approved) punch checklist of labor.

Having clear course for the week helped me keep calm and centered, after I assume I in any other case may need felt extra frantic and chaotic. It additionally helped my supervisor perceive my bandwidth, communicate intelligently to my priorities, and advocate for me accordingly. I’ve additionally relied on my OSR’s in durations of terribly excessive or low work satisfaction to supply an goal account of what I’ve been engaged on. 

2. “It’s Solely The Weekend When” Submit-It

Everybody’s bought their very own option to handle their to-do checklist, however one factor that has meaningfully modified the best way I work and helped me really prioritize the large stuff is to write down 3 (and not more than 3!) issues I might be very dissatisfied to enter the weekend with out finishing. I wish to put this on an precise post-it as a result of it’s a pleasant Monday morning ritual and having this quick checklist on a brightly-colored piece of precise paper makes it stand out from the opposite to-do lists, notifications, and trackers. Plus, it’s actually satisfying to have the ability to cross it off after I end one thing! 

All through the week, I’ll transfer it round and stick it varied locations — in my pocket book alongside my day by day to-do checklist, on the quilt of my pocket book, within the nook of my monitor, on the backside of the keyboard, and even on my lavatory mirror if I’m getting actually determined because the weekend nears! 

In case your OSR paints the general image of what’s in flight or may very well be quickly, the weekend post-it tells you (extra like screams at you!) what try to be doing proper now. 

If I believe I’ll be crunched for time or my schedule isn’t trying notably conducive to getting these items accomplished, I’ll usually block time to deal with them. I attempt not to do that too usually, however I’d even postpone lower-priority work or conferences to make the time if I really want it.  

Right here’s an image of some of mine from the final yr:

Image of notebook with four example Post-It notes on the pages

3. “What I’m Proud Of” Scrapbook

That is precisely what it seems like; a set of issues I’m happy with. It’s a working checklist and hodgepodge of codecs (screenshots, emails, pings, suggestions, and so on.) with no actual organizational construction, however over time, it would flip right into a incredible uncooked information set for the issues that offer you power and make you tick. I dump issues on this doc as they arrive. It’s a lot much less structured than the OSR.

I’ve discovered two essential issues about myself by sustaining this doc through the years. The primary is that the connection to work I’ve shipped and work I’m happy with is not 1:1. Lining my Issues I’m Pleased with Scrapbook with my OSR side-by-side helps me determine what work really satisfies me. The second is that there are issues I assume I like doing, however by no means seem on this doc. And, conversely, issues I didn’t assume I cared about, however actually, actually do. 

For instance, I assumed I’d need a profession with an analytics focus. Seems, not a single one in every of my analyses ended up within the “What I’m happy with” scrapbook. And, others weren’t giving me any shining suggestions on my contributions. Conversely, I didn’t assume that I used to be motivated by direct, optimistic suggestions (and reasonably by hole-poking). However, screenshots of type pings from colleagues and comfortable recipients of my work find yourself filling my doc. 

My scrapbook of issues I’m happy with checks the tales I inform myself about what I care about by matching them to actuality. 

It helps me transfer by my profession with true information and perception into what makes me comfortable and, subsequently, what I need to do extra of. Right here’s a snapshot from a web page in mine:

collage of screenshots, tweets, text messages in Brie's "scrapbook"

4. Snag Log

A snag log has related properties of the Scrapbook of Issues I’m Proud Of, however the snag log covers the issues that bogged me down as a substitute of the issues that lifted me up. Or, as a colleague as soon as phrased it, “the issues that give me the ickies.” You understand what these items are — the issues that made your tummy flip or perhaps made you need to throw your laptop computer out the window or scream right into a pillow. 

Be trustworthy with your self when this occurs. And, the diploma of the “ickies” you bought if you bought them! Issues which have appeared in my “ickies” checklist embody: “nonetheless can’t get this question to run (10!!)” and “weekly standup bores me to tears,” and “welp, that launch was completely lackluster. Waste of time?” It would really feel embarrassing or foolish in the meanwhile it’s occurring, however it’s information you should utilize to get extra productive or discover extra pleasure in your work.

Filling out this doc jogs my memory of a ritual my school soccer workforce practiced — in the event you made a mistake or a foul play, you’d pull up a couple of blades of grass after which toss them into the wind. Within the work surroundings, sustaining this doc gives me with a extra productive outlet to specific my annoyance, frustration, or disappointment. Getting these huge emotions out of my head and right into a doc has helped cut back some in-the-moment anxiousness and made me so much much less prone to inadvertently unfold any of my negativity to others — in my work {and professional} life, alike. 

Extra broadly, this doc has helped me determine broader patterns in my perspective in the direction of work. One very useful studying is that I’m fairly delicate — plenty of issues really feel like little snags on the time. One associated and refreshing studying is that I’ve a brief reminiscence for these snags. Whew! Many occasions after I learn this doc again, I barely keep in mind the incident. 

On the flip facet, this doc has additionally helped me acknowledge and get forward of paper cuts which might be beginning to fester into larger, extra painful, wounds. Typically, I’ll see the identical identify or the identical taste of labor pop up time and again. That’s an excellent time to intervene or swap issues up ultimately. Typically meaning enlisting the assist of another person that will help you try this, and if that’s the case, you’ll have loads of examples on the prepared so yow will discover the correct path ahead.

5. “Right this moment, I Realized”

This doc can be comparatively easy. It’s an inventory of issues I discovered, normally in bullet kind. Learnings, for me, vary from technical particulars (“the API works this specific manner”), to storing issues that I’d need to discover later (“use this question if you need to calculate that”, “hyperlink to assist’s canned responses”), to observations about working types (“Alice is sharper within the morning (self-proclaimed)”, “Doris reads emails intently, even when she doesn’t reply,”), to non-public particulars I need to keep in mind about colleagues (“Deep has a 3-year-old son named Leo”), to non-public insights (“Jordan gave me suggestions that I’m normally probably the most optimistic voice within the room”, “look like slower than colleagues at studying SQL”).  Date them or batch them by month so you’ll be able to look again and perceive the timing and context.

I discover myself returning to this doc and looking in it on a regular basis. I discover that I usually keep in mind that I put one thing associated to the factor within the doc, however can’t keep in mind the small print round it. Having this doc helps me return to them with just some seconds of looking. 

It’s helpful in my day-to-day work as a result of it makes me so much much less prone to ask the identical query twice, and helps me unblock myself as a substitute of counting on others. I’ve additionally discovered that I’m extra prone to keep in mind one thing if I take the ten seconds required so as to add it to the checklist. (And, the analysis is with me on this one — re-writing one thing helps our brains encode the data. It additionally says that writing is best than typing it, however that will make the doc much less searchable which, for me, is extra vital). 

In terms of self-reflection, this doc has helped me get a extra nuanced perspective on what and the way I’m studying, in addition to the slope and charge of that studying. For instance, I’ve discovered that there are durations which may be low-learning on technical matters, however could be high-learning in organizational or workforce dynamics. 

Loads of profession recommendation circles across the thought of “depart if you cease studying.” I believe that’s directionally good recommendation — as long as you may have an open thoughts about what studying appears like. 

Having a doc might help you perceive, with comparatively high-fidelity, the place you’re in your studying journey. And kind there, whether or not you need one thing to vary in consequence. 

6. Impression Monitoring (in your OSR)

Utilizing your OSR as your information, check out all of the belongings you shipped and jot down some notes about their influence. Do your finest to deal with observable outcomes — what metrics moved, how metrics moved, what customers mentioned or did in consequence, what colleagues mentioned or did in consequence, and so on.

This won’t solely turn out to be useful throughout efficiency evaluation season, however it would additionally begin to prepare and tune your mannequin about what work really generates influence. And, it would aid you communicate intelligently about that with others (particularly after they come knocking in your door asking on your assist with one thing). 

7. Me-Sat

Many people might be aware of C-Sat, quick for buyer satisfaction, as a metric for a way glad clients are with a services or products. Many people may also have stuffed out an organization satisfaction survey (also referred to as an worker voice survey) that contributes to a broad firm satisfaction rating and accompanying read-out about how glad workers are with their corporations. I say it’s time all of us get within the behavior of turning this query on ourselves, and evaluating our personal satisfaction, or “Me-sat.” 

There are many methods to take your personal pulse, and I’ll share a few of my favourite examples and workouts beneath. Irrespective of which train you go along with, probably the most impactful issues for me have been getting within the behavior of taking a while and area for self-reflection (i.e. really doing one in every of these workouts with some regularity) and searching backwards to determine patterns in a manner that helps inform future conduct. 

Satisfaction Litmus Take a look at: A easy construction for a check-in, taken from my favourite planner, designed (and offered!) by David Singleton, Stripe’s Head of Engineering. All this train requires is that you simply rating your self between 1-4 on 4 core drivers of satisfaction: loved it, bought stuff accomplished, progressed objectives, studying. Common them collectively (or use a weighted common in the event you’re feeling further thorough), to generate an total “Me Sat.”

Blood Kool-Help Content material: One option to describe “Me Sat” can be your present Blood Kool-Help Content material. As in, how a lot of the corporate’s Kool-Help do I’ve pulsing by my veins? Or, how into the corporate’s mission, management, coworkers, function, and working norms am I at a given second? This single-prong rating may be prone to bias by your present temper, however it by no means hurts to trace it. (Or, ask your self the place you’re at on this scale if you’re feeling further charged up about one thing as a option to construct extra self-awareness and take extra measured motion). 

Contribute to Your “4 Lists”:  This one’s coined by Molly Graham (Google, Fb, Quip, Lambda Faculty, Chan Zuckerberg) and suggests you contribute to 4 lists; issues I really like doing, issues I’m distinctive at, issues I hate doing, issues I’m dangerous at. I like to make use of these as working lists versus making a brand new one each month. Be aware of what modifications — perhaps even observe them in a changelog. 

Vitality Evaluation: Just like Molly’s 4 lists, and launched to me by Stephanie Zou (Zendesk, Figma) this train helps you articulate how the belongings you work on influence your power, and what you prefer to extra and fewer publicity to over time. 

Cease, Begin, Proceed Retrospective: This basic retrospective framework asks you to think about what you need to begin, cease, and proceed doing. It’s usually used to mirror on collaborative or cross practical work, however there’s no motive you’ll be able to’t use it for your self! Right here’s a template if you wish to attempt it your self. 

Cherish / Change Retrospective: One other retrospective framework I’ve been taking part in round with is the Change / Cherish Scale. On one facet of the spectrum, I’ve issues I need to maintain on to. From there, I ask myself if I need or have to nurture this factor (as in, focus some consideration on gardening/watering it) or let it circulate (as in, don’t intervene and let issues occur.) On the opposite facet are the issues I need to change. From there, I’ll ask myself if I need extra of it or much less of it. Right here’s a template if you wish to give this one a attempt. 

A spectrum of cherish to change, with nurture and let flow on one axis, and more and less on the right axis.
An instance of what the Cherish / Change Retrospective template appears like

I’ve used every of those workouts at various factors. Actually, I like to change up the framework for my reflections to maintain them contemporary. In the end, all of them reply the identical questions — what issues ought to I lean into at work? Your day by day docs might help inform all of those, and constructing a daily observe of placing all of the items collectively, by focused self-reflection, may also aid you hone in on the story you inform about your self about the place you’re at and the place you need to go (with actual examples!) to others who might help you alongside the best way. 

8. Private Press Launch

Think about you’re writing a press launch about all of the belongings you shipped and the influence they’re having. You’ll doubtless need to rely closely in your OSR (together with influence) and perhaps embody a sprinkling of particulars out of your Scrapbook of Issues I’m Proud Of, Right this moment I Realized, and Snag Log docs. 

Some belongings you would possibly need to embody in your press launch are:

Headline/Lede: the eye grabber

One-line abstract: think about how somebody would describe this to a colleague

Prime 3-5 belongings you shipped

The place your time went

Key insights or learnings 

Progress on metrics

Qualitative impacts

Contributions to the broader workforce/firm

Suggestions you acquired from stakeholders/customers (inner or exterior)

One piece of artwork (graph, image, screenshot, and so on.)

General temper/sentiment

Something the broader group did that you simply want you possibly can have been part of

What you’re actually happy with

Something you’re not so happy with

A glance forward on: What you’re transport subsequent, what you’re enthusiastic about, huge alternatives for you, your workforce, or your organization, and any foreseen blockers, dangers, or issues that you simply’re apprehensive about.

Right here they’re in a template so you will get to work by yourself press launch sooner. I love to do these on a weekend or night when issues are a bit quieter and I can provide it my full focus. I additionally time-box these to three hours max so I don’t get too carried away. 

Do your self a favor and write this in prose. You don’t have to point out anybody, however it’ll be exceedingly cool to look again on the catalog of those over time, and also you’ll be extra doubtless to do this in the event that they’ve bought a little bit of a punch to them. If you do, you’ll inevitably get to say to your self, “dang, I actually did all that?!” And that’s the form of feeling that retains you going by all of the vicissitudes of startup life.

It’s value acknowledging that corporations will usually immediate some model of this for efficiency evaluation functions, however I believe it’s value doing one with out the perf pressure-cooker timer ticking, on your eyes solely, that covers not solely your influence, but in addition how glad you’re. 

9. Job Description

The very best and worst factor about working at dynamic corporations is that every little thing is all the time altering — the panorama, the product roadmap, what customers need, your workforce composition, your supervisor. Which means, what the corporate wants from you is all the time altering, which suggests your job is all the time altering. Since you live it on daily basis, it may be exhausting to detect even very materials modifications in your function and tasks over time. 

It’s like ageing — exhausting to detect on the day-to-day scale, simple to detect on the last decade scale, and fuzzy-ish in between. To assist me get extra crisp on how issues are altering, I re-write my very own job description each six months. 

A typical job description has three elements and you should utilize these similar elements if you craft yours: 

1. total description of the connection between the function and the broader firm and its objectives (normally 1-2 paragraphs of prose) 

2. checklist of tasks (normally bullets), and 

3. abilities which might be required to do a terrific job. 

I’ve discovered that 1 usually stays comparatively steady, 2 modifications on a regular basis, and three evolves steadily. Ideally, the tasks development more and more strategic and attention-grabbing to you over time and that 2 by no means outpaces 3. 

If you put pen to paper on yours, I might counsel that the primary paragraph has a really memorable one-liner mission assertion. Take into consideration what you’d need your supervisor to say if somebody requested her, “what’s $NAME engaged on nowadays?” Why? As a result of they most likely do! And, it’s best to most likely have some language you could constantly use to speak about your function with others.

Right here’s a template you should utilize to assemble yours.

Should you see significant modifications model to model, it’s most likely a good suggestion to test in together with your supervisor. Relying on how you feel about your function and tasks, you should utilize this to gut-check and information a dialog in your areas of focus together with your supervisor. 

One other factor I’ve been experimenting with is creating an aspirational job description for ~1-2 years out. This creates a transparent, tangible articulation of the place you need to go sooner or later. What you write doesn’t need to have any conception of your present abilities or what the corporate wants. It’s all about you and the place you need to go. You could discover that this function exists, and you could have it!

Just a few years in the past, a couple of colleagues and I bought collectively on a Saturday afternoon and wrote them. It was a fairly enjoyable train — particularly as a result of it mixed our hopes and desires for our personal careers together with the strategic course or finest we wished our firm to take.

10. Working with Me

Jay Desai first conceived of this idea (although he known as it a ‘consumer information’) and I first discovered about it after I learn Claire Hughes Johnson’s, former COO of Stripe. It’s a option to categorical and scale your most popular working fashion and preferences. 

For leaders creating one, take heed to the implicit energy dynamics at play — particularly, whether or not you expect those that work with you to adapt their working fashion to yours to accommodate your preferences. For particular person contributors, I’ve discovered that this doc is a extremely useful type of self-expression that results in higher, more healthy, extra environment friendly working relationships. When accomplished properly, in addition they present quite a lot of self-awareness that assist colleagues perceive one another so much higher. 

I’ve additionally leaned on ‘working with me’ paperwork in conditions when one thing’s not fairly clicking with a colleague and also you’re undecided why. Creating after which evaluating paperwork has been immensely useful in recognizing sudden factors of alignment or misalignment that may result in moments of deeper connection and teasing out root causes of labor friction. 

I additionally like to keep up a changelog on the backside of the doc. The speed of change will doubtless lower over the course of your profession. Should you really feel like your fashion or preferences are evolving sufficient to vary this canonical doc on the way you wish to work, it’s vital you register this with your self and anybody else who works intently with you formally. (They’ve most likely seen anyway, and it’s an excellent alternative to speak about that evolution and study extra about it and its influence on others). 

Right here’s a hyperlink to mine! And a preview screenshot:

Should you’d wish to attempt incorporating these into your workflow, right here’s a calendar you’ll be able to subscribe to that’ll preserve them top-of thoughts. It’s the identical one I’ve been utilizing for years, and I’m excited to convey much more individuals alongside within the means of self-reflection, private improvement, and better organizational consciousness. 

It takes a little bit of a psychological shift and a few self-discipline to work this manner, however it’s value it. Even when worklife is feeling its most chaotic, there are clues hiding in plain sight and patterns ready to disclose themselves. As a result of once we do what it takes to uncover them, the work we produce will get a complete lot higher and the journey feels much more rewarding. 

And, we don’t have to attend for anybody else to assist get us there. We are able to take all of it into our personal arms!



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